We have been too long in mea culpa.
The way my life has been going lately Lent is redundant. Some days there just isn’t enough chocolate to get me through the day. All the more reason to think not about giving something up, but to focus my attention elsewhere. It’s been my experience when I give something up that is all I think about and talk about for forty days. So each year I try to find something uplifting, inspiring that will keep me focused on the true purpose of this sacred season. To keep my eye on the real prize and purpose of the season of new life. This year I thought perhaps I could achieve this by reading the letters of St. Paul in chronological order. In the order they were written they might reveal something about growth in Christ. I can’t think of no one else who had the prize more in mind and can keep my attention focused there for the next forty days.
Lent’s purpose over the centuries was to dedicate a time to fast, pray and reflect one’s life and make some advance, however small, in our spiritual development. We were taught the way to do this was by self-denial. However, more recently the focus has been less on self-denial, what to give up, and more about taking up a more positive practice in order to achieve this transformation. To build as St. Paul would say. And there is no one who can speak better to a faith-life transformation than St. Paul.
Over the centuries Paul has become a lighting rod for scholars and non-scholars alike. With fire in his belly, warrants in hand, Saul was on his way to bring some of the followers of Jesus to prosecution and prison. However, in a lightning flash of a moment this Hellenized Hebrew became, in his own words, a prisoner for Christ. On the Damascus Road Saul, the persecutor of the first followers of Jesus, would become his greatest Champion. This experience was life changing for Paul. Paul’s preaching and writing would become life changing for the world. Perhaps during these forty days set aside for prayer and reflection, reading and reflecting on the letters of Paul can be transformative for me as well.
As I read through his first letter to the Thessalonians it occurred to me that Paul has set out some good themes for traversing Lent. About this passionate and firey orator there is much controversy. But I have always had a soft spot in my heart for him because of his passion, enthusiasm and the sheer force of his conviction that Yeshua of Nazareth was indeed the long-awaited messiah, the Christ. At the center of his love, and life and writing is Jesus. This Lent I felt that I might keep my focus on the person of Jesus reading all the letters of the thirteenth disciples in the order he wrote them.
We have been too long in mea culpa. And I believe that even in the often maligned and misunderstood apostle to the Gentiles, we can find a positive and uplifting approach to this sacred season. Paul’s resounding theme is to put on Christ. To be in Christ. And isn’t this the goal of not only Lent but of our entire lives?